Ah fall. The changing colors, the falling leaves, the cool days and crisp nights. The coughs, sneezes, fever and aches. Fall is here. So is the flu. Just as seasonal allergies ramp up in the spring and late summer, so colds and influenza (flu) increase in the fall. It’s time to protect yourself and your family from what is annoying at best, and deadly at worst.
What’s so bad about the flu?
If you think that the flu is just a bad cold, you’re underestimating its power. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the 2018-2019 flu season was longer than normal and came in two distinct waves. The final report won’t be available until late October, but preliminary estimates show that between 37.4 and 42.9 million people were sick. As a result, between 531,000 and 647,000 people were hospitalized, and between 36,400 and 61,200 people died. Those at greatest risk are the very young, older people, and others in certain high-risk groups. However, the flu is always mutating. The infamous Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 (which lasted into 1920) killed a disproportionate number of healthy young adults, and eventually killed between 50 and 100 million people worldwide. It even gave rise to a somewhat macabre children’s skipping rhyme, possibly related to the fear that the flu was an airborne illness:
I had a little bird,
Its name was Enza.
I opened the window,
Is it a cold or the flu?
The Mayo Clinic has a guide to differentiating flu and cold symptoms. One main difference is that colds come on slowly while the flu attacks quickly. In addition, with the flu you are more likely to have muscle aches, a headache, fatigue, and a fever over 100.4° F. Think of it this way: You may feel lousy when you have a cold, but the flu can make you feel really awful. The only good news is that for most people, the flu lasts no more than a week or two with no additional complications.
Prevention is best.
The best way to treat the flu is to avoid getting it in the first place. You catch the flu either by inhaling the virus when someone coughs or sneezes, or by touching a surface harboring flu germs and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Start your prevention routine by washing your hands fully and often. It’s almost impossible to disinfect every surface you may touch in a day, but you can clean your hands easily. Use disinfectant wipes on surfaces you share at home, work or school. Try to stay out of crowds, where there’s a greater chance that an infected person will sneeze or cough in your vicinity. Don’t share glasses, plates or utensils. Use hand sanitizers, too, but there’s no substitute for soap and warm water. Finally, get a flu shot. There are different delivery systems, from the typical syringe and needle to a nasal spray and a needle-less injector. Talk to your doctor about what will work best for you, but don’t wait. It takes up to two weeks to build your immunity.
I’m sick. Now what?
First, stay home. Your colleagues do not want your coughing, sneezing, sorry self at work, spreading your germs by air and by coffee maker. Few things are more annoying than a colleague who tells everyone what a martyr they are, coming to work sick because they have to do their job. The same goes for school. Your teachers and classmates do not need your germs. Above all, take care of yourself. You’ve heard it before, but here goes; get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids. Some foods and beverages to consider are hot tea, chicken soup, and ice pops (really!). Finally, whether you are at home or in a public place, if you cough or sneeze, don’t cover your face with your hands. They will simply become germ transmission devices. Make like Dracula and cover your nose and mouth with the crook of your elbow. You may look sinister but it’s better than being truly evil and spreading the flu.